Sunday, January 24, 2010

Red Crossbills, Schoharie county

My wife and I drove around Schoharie County on Sunday from 10AM-2PM. On the way down Rt. 30, at the creek crossing in Middleburgh, we had at least one Common Merganser in the water, with some Mallards, and one Belted Kingfisher watching the action overhead from a wire. Farther down the road a Merlin flew directly above us.

At Max V. Shaul SP, it was quiet at first, except for a female Pileated Woodpecker who flew over and perched. When we finally heard a lone nuthatch, we decided to "pish" to see if we could bring anything in. Well, that was the best our efforts have ever worked, as a huge, angry mob (they may have had pitchforks and torches) of chickadees, titmice, both nuthatches and creepers showed up all around us, sounding off their displeasure. We moved on, leaving the angry villagers behind.

Up the hill in Burnt-Rossman Hills SF, we ran into my namesake, Tom Williams, of Berne, who was staking out the intersection at Huckleberry Kingdom Rd. He gave us a quick education on the local habitat, and very soon a pair of male Red Crossbills flew into the top of a nearby deciduous tree. Their color, bill shape (of course) and song are quite distinctive. There was also a very large congregation of American Goldfinches feeding in the pines. Thanks Tom for your friendly guidance.

Over in Sharon Springs we had a flock of 17 Wild Turkeys, and a Cooper's Hawk flew overhead along Rt. 10. Despite being in agricultural environs much of the day, we encountered no roadside flocks of buntings or larks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Short-eared Owls at the Battlefield

This evening towards dusk I made my way up to the Saratoga National Historical Park to try to see Short-eared Owls that had been reported earlier in the day. Between three birders we totaled five owls present. They would vocalize as they flew, a kind of harsh, barking sound. Two park-walking regulars, who appeared to be non-birders, said that they see these owls every year during mid-winter. So maybe this is a reliable spot for this species; I will have to look at previous CBC data and other databases to see if there are records for this location. They were seen from the red Neilson farmhouse, on top of the hill at Loop Road Tour Stop #2. The tour road appears closed to vehicles in the winter months, but this area can be accessed by parking on a short access road on the north side of Rt. 423/Rt. 32 about a mile in from Rt. 4. You can see the small, red farmhouse on the hill from the road.

Saugerties Lighthouse

Colleen and I had planned to visit Coxsackie this morning (Sunday 1/17), so we travelled a few more exits down the Thruway to Saugerties and walked out the Lighthouse Trail. This is a very pleasant walk, and must be terrific in the warmer, greener months. Go early, as even in the dead of winter we passed a half dozen groups making the walk. Tides are in play here as well, so check the tide tables and try to avoid high tide, as portions of the trail are underwater.

We were greeted by a singing Carolina Wren, and then three woodpeckers in succession (Red-bellied, Hairy, Downy.) There are a pair of seed/suet feeders at the lighthouse, and Song Sparrows and cardinals were going back and forth from the reeds and brush. In the open water south of the lighthouse spit, the mouth of the Esopus Creek, Common Mergansers were moving around, and a Belted Kingfisher was surveying the scene from a distant tree branch. An adult Bald Eagle flew across the river as well.

We scanned up and down the river for a previously seen Greater White-fronted Goose; it had been spotted amongst a huge flock of Canada Geese and reported on the previous day's Annual State Waterfowl Count. We had no luck seeing any geese, however. On the walk in, we did see a pair of Mute Swans swimming in unison in a small open lead nearer to shore. I highly recommend a visit to the lighthouse, and also the nearby Esopus Bend Nature Preserve.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coxsackie Bird Launch!

Photo courtesy of

Before today, I had only been to Greene County to bird on one previous occasion, to see the Swainson's Hawk found by Rich Guthrie in Oct. 2009. Well, let's just say I'll be making more frequent visits from now on. Colleen and I started out at the IDA Grasslands around 11AM; there was little going on there, so we moved along. We slowly drove up and down Bronck Mill Rd. and along Smith Rd., and there were lots of familiar winter birds to see here. There were eight different cardinals shuttling from a hedgerow to a feeder on Bronck Mill. As we came down Smith there was a female Northern Harrier at the edge of the road.

At the Coxsackie Boat Launch, a Cooper's Hawk was perched in a tree at the parking lot. There were many Canada Geese, Mallards, and a couple of black ducks as well. Got some very close-up, as well as educational, views of the three standard gulls (Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed), in their various plumage sequences.

At Four Mile Point Preserve, there was little to see as two tugs and barges had just gone by, flushing the bluebirds and Hermit Thrush that others had seen just before our arrival. We did watch a Pileated Woodpecker fly across the Hudson, and could hear it's distant calls. The best bird of all was sunning itself in one of the Wood Duck boxes a bit further down the road: an Eastern Screech-Owl (red-morph), a life bird for me (#174) and the highlight of the day. Thanks to Will and Danika Raup for the heads-up on this bird; much appreciated!

On the way back we cruised up Lawrence Rd./River Rd. and had five Northern Harriers in the fields on either side of the road. I saw more harriers today than juncos; go figure. Our last stop was the Grasslands again. At the Save-A-Lot end, we had a Savannah Sparrow flush across the road and perch, facing us, near the new aero-products building. At the Serta end, there were so many harriers, Rough-legged Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks we lost track of them all. Twenty-eight species in three and a half hours, not too bad for a frigid day in January. Thanks to everyone who has reported from that area recently, you made our day very enjoyable.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sharpie or Cooper's?

I had a Cooper's Hawk patrolling the feeders at home this morning, and later saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in Waterford. Both were juvenile birds, and it is still tough for me to ID them quickly. Here's the best resource article I've found on the topic, courtesy of Cornell.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Horned Larks in Waterford

Photo courtesy of Huron River Birding

After reading some older posts on hmbirds and eBird, I took a ride up to Flight Lock Rd. in Waterford. The goal was to find Horned Larks at a parking area at the end of the road. In winter, this area seems desolate, and other than some construction ongoing at one of the locks, no one else was here. Sure enough, in the grassy, gravel area on the south side of the parking area were Horned Larks (47), a life bird for me (#173), and as a bonus there were many Snow Buntings (15) present as well. If only all birds were this reliable!

Bird every bird!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day birds- 2010

After recording a few early morning feeder birds (FOY bird: Northern Cardinal), we set out to Five Rivers EEC in Delmar for the 30th annual New Year's Day Bird Count. The turnout was strong, with about forty people setting out in two groups to see what could be found. I believe the final count was 29 species, which is slightly low by historical standards. Both Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker were observed, as they continue to show their year-round presence in the region. Other notables were Cedar Waxwing, Pileated Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Hermit Thrush.

Our next stop was the Hudson-Mohawk Bike Path in Niskayuna. The river was completely frozen over and snow covered. The shrubby area to the east of the old train station was very active. A surprise find was a Northern Mockingbird eating some berries. A Brown Creeper was moving around with a group of chickadees, titmice, sparrows and cardinals. A group of Mallards was foraging in some open water along Rosendale Rd.

All told it was a good start to the new year, with 27 species tallied for the day. Remember to bird every bird!